You may think all corn is the same, but it’s not. There are four basic types of corn and they all have distinguishing traits and uses. You can’t pop sweet corn and you wouldn’t want to eat boiled field corn. The average person may not be able to tell the difference between the various types of corn by looking at them growing in the field, but a grower certainly can.
Dent corn, also called field corn, is the most widely grown corn in the U.S. It is used primarily for livestock feed, but it is also used in some food products. It contains a mix of hard and soft starches that become indented once the corn is dried, thus the name “dent” corn.
Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, is similar to dent corn. It has a hard outer shell and is distinguished by a wide range of colors. It is grown mostly in Central and South America and used primarily for decoration in North America around harvest time.
Popcorn is a type of flint corn, but has its own size, shape, starch level and moisture content. It has a hard exterior shell and a soft starchy center. When heated, the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam and builds up enough pressure to eventually explode. Other types of dried corn may burst open slightly when heated, but popcorn is unique in its taste and popability.
Sweet corn, or “corn on the cob,” is almost all soft starch and will never pop. It contains more sugar than other types of corn. Unlike other corns that are picked when the kernels are dry and mature, sweet corn is picked and eaten while the ears are in the immature milk stage and the kernels are tender.